Turn your Robbing into Singing

This beautiful story is from my hot sauce supplier

We bought hot sauce from a man at the farmer’s market yesterday. He and his wife (who is from Peru) are on a quest to create a hot sauce that is as delicious as it is hot and I’m on a quest to consume as much as it as I can. A former enlisted Navy guy, he randomly told us a story about a time in Portugal which was chock full of Franciscan themes. I asked his permission to use it and promised to share his website as a way to thank him for the delightful story. (Click here to order their delicious hot sauce and support his small family business).
He and his friends were glad to hop off the submarine when it arrived in port in Portugal. After months at sea, I can only imagine what a relief it is to breathe fresh air, eat new food and talk to new people. A briefing on the ship had warned them about muggings and that it was unlikely that any mugger who claimed to have a gun would have one since they are very

040822-N-2653P-274 Atlantic Ocean (Aug. 22, 2004) - General Dynamics Electric Boat test engineers rest in modified berthing facilities located in the Torpedo Room aboard PCU Virginia (SSN 774) during Bravo trials. The torpedo room can be reconfigured to meet a variety of operational missions including bunking a special operations team. Virginia is the Navy's only major combatant ready to join the fleet that was designed with the post-Cold War security environment in mind and embodies the war fighting and operational capabilities required to dominate the littorals while maintaining undersea dominance in the open ocean. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class James Pinsky (RELEASED)
040822-N-2653P-274
Atlantic Ocean (Aug. 22, 2004) – General Dynamics Electric Boat test engineers rest in modified berthing facilities located in the Torpedo Room aboard PCU Virginia (SSN 774) during Bravo trials. The torpedo room can be reconfigured to meet a variety of operational missions including bunking a special operations team. Virginia is the Navy’s only major combatant ready to join the fleet that was designed with the post-Cold War security environment in mind and embodies the war fighting and operational capabilities required to dominate the littorals while maintaining undersea dominance in the open ocean. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class James Pinsky (RELEASED)

expensive. With this helpful information, they darted out of the vessel to see what Portugal had to offer. That evening, a guy walked up to them and asked if they are Americans. They nodded yes and he, with grand gestures and a loud voice announced that he loved Americans. When they asked why, he cleverly answered, “Because they have money!” and then indicated that since he had a gun in his jacket pocket they really ought to hand over some of their money. Remembering their earlier training, they expressed doubts as to the veracity of his claim. He responded by acquiescing that he did not in fact have a gun but that he did have a hypodermic needle contaminated with a particularly nasty virus. This was not covered in their training on the submarine so they decided to make a deal with him. They asked if he’d like to take a different approach and perhaps do something to work for some money. He affirmed that he was up for this. Together, the crewcut, civilian clad young men who live under the sea struck a deal with the above-ground dwelling man that he would sing a traditional Porttrash 12uguese song, a fado, in exchange for money. So, right there, on the street, he sang to them, they enjoyed themselves, they shared their money with him and afterwards, they shook hands and parted ways with smiles and well wishes.
This story could have come straight out of the life and times of St. Francis of Assisi, except for the part about living under the ocean for a six month stint since in his day it would only have been possible for about 30 seconds at a time. I imagine these young men as I imagine a younger version of my husband, also a former enlisted navy sailor, with cargo pants and a tshirt, happy to be in civilian clothes and out from under the watchful stare of his chiefs on the ship. I love that they diffused the situation and that they dealt with the stress and potential danger of it with creativity and came up with an agreement which created a beautiful moment out of nothing. To passers-by, a local guy was entertaining some tourists but something more powerful was happening in that moment when violence and the threat of robbery turned to singing, smiling and a wonderful story.

St. Francis of Assisi and Robbers

This story can be found in The Life of St. Francis of Assisi by Thomas of Celano, Chapter VII.  St. Francis had his own encounter with robbers right after the very public mutual-disowning with his father in front of everybody in town, he set off to whatever was next for him (spoiler alert: he became a dishwasher at a monastery for a short time). The robbers attacked him and “savagely demanded who he was” to which he responded “I am the herald of the great King!” to which they responded by beating him and tossing him in a snowy ditch. Although they mocked him, Celano tells us that St. Francis, supine in a ditch, sang even louder out of his “joy” and “exhilaration”.

Julie and Robbers

Although I have had many, many things stolen over the years (2 bikes, wallet, etc.) and had thieves break down the door into my Lexington, NC office twice (sadly, they heavily damaged the office but only made off with one Indian rupee which I kept from my trip to Kolkata. I hope the robbers went to a pawn shop with it and left disappointed after finding out it is worth 1.5 cents), I have not had encounter like the ones described here, thank God. I have several questions for you to choose from as you think about the sailor-turned-hot-suace-chef guy’s  story and the story of St. Francis:

Questions for You

1.Have you seen a terrible situation turn into something beautiful?

2.What was it like for the fado singer as he parted ways with the sailors?

3. Have you ever found yourself supine in a ditch (either real or metaphorical) yet filled with joy?

4. What about these stories surprised you?

Bringing Flowers to Charleston, SC

Written on Fridaytrah 1
I am driving from Jacksonville, FL to Columbia, SC today. I woke up at a L’Arche community where I have been surrounded by good people who are doing God’s work. Yesterday, a conversation with Liz, the Exec. Director of Catholic Volunteers in Florida taught me that we must put our physical bodies in particular places sometimes-to be witnesses. Her wisdom and God’s nudging showed me that I must go to Charleston today. I am going there to bear witness to the lives of the people killed there on Wednesday. Just as a pilgrim carries others’ intentions with them, I will carry your intentions with me. Write your prayers here and I will read these as I walk from my car to the makeshift memorial at the AME Zion Church.

Written on Saturday
I drove the 3 ½ hours from Jacksonville. At the SC welcome center, I got a map of Charleston and asked an employee to point out the location of the church. She circled the incorrect street and walked away from me, maybe thinking I was up to no good. I gps’ed myself to an address a few blocks from the church and found a parking lot. I got out, filled the vase with water from the water bottles I had filled at L’Arche and, map in hand, walked toward the church. I went past the street the first time, ending up on a street near the College of Charleston which was blocked off, perhaps as a place for people to gather as a crowd. A policeman directed me to the right street so I turned around and walked the same sidewalk I had just come down. I had seen historic photos of the church from the internet and it was as grand as the photos with a huge double staircase out front. They had a banner up to generate interest and donations for an elevator project, a scaffold tower to the right of the church, presumably to make it accessible to elders and those in wheelchairs. Another banner across the street read that elder abuse is a crime.
There were about 100 people gathered there in front of the church. About 40 of them were cameramen with video cameras, photographers with regular cameras, reporters with microphones or reporters with notebooks. The street outside was not blocked off so traffic freely passed by, meaning that the people were confined to the sidewalk. I assume this is an intentional decision for crowd control as I’ve seen it done in NYC when lots of celebrities were going into a building. I assumed reporters would be off to the side, indiscreet, observing the events. Instead, they were as much a part of the “story” as anybody. They were making the story too, mostly by being in people’s way. Of the 60 other people (I was there from 6:30-7:30 on Friday), most had their camera phones out, snapping a photo. Many laid flowers and I added “our” vase of flowers to about 200 which were leaning against the wrought-iron fence. I saw a guy with a poignant shirt that said, “Now Do You Believe Us?” Someone had left water bottles in bins for whoever needed them. It was about 100 degrees out. Some lively discussions were happening among strangers, some cell phone calls were made by reporters to people back at HQ, another reporter was practicing his simple lines again and again into the camera. There was no “center of gravity” in the time I was there, simply people coming to look, to lay flowers, to walk on. I found a spot on a curb to sit for a few minutes and offered up all of our prayers and the intentions written by friends and family earlier in the day. A phrase that came to mind for me was “Interrupt Racism” which I think means not even letting someone tell the punchline of a racist joke or finish their sentence when they are saying something racist. Don’t wait to react afterwards, interrupt it while it is going on. No reason to be polite.
After a time with the crowd outside the church, I started walking back to my car to resume my drive to Columbia. I noticed a playground outside the church and took some time to look at it and think about it. There are 3 trikes parked in it and fun-looking equipment. There is a canister of bubbles at the entrance at a height for adults to grab as they are going in there with kids, to delight them with the universally-appealing, smiling-making magic of bubbles. I cut through the parking lot next door, past black suv with D.C. plates, past numerous news vans and camera men dealing with equipment. I walked around to the back side of the church and saw someone on a little dais speaking to a camera. A large bouncer looking man was alongside her and I caught his eye and gave him a nod and he returned my nod. I continued to the wrought iron fence surrounding the back of the church. In the parking lot, I counted 7 cars all with SC plates. I wondered if those belonged to the deceased. I prayed for a few momenta few minutes, holding on to the fence. That was a poignant moment, to imagine people gathering for their weekly bible study, with grocery lists in their heads, worrying about loved ones, looking at the clock on the dash and everything else that goes on as you pull into a familiar parking spot. I saw a person with an FBI shirt exit the basement of the church with a tool bag, saw a surveyor’s tripod set up in the parking lot with a tool box, a cop car blocking the entrance to the parking lot. There was a bouquet of red plastic flowers on the ground so I arranged them on the fence so they would be upright. A honking horn made me turn around. A lady in a big SUV stopped to get out and address a guy that walked by carrying a cross on wheels. I overheard her tell him that she’s seen him doing that all over Charleston for years and she gave him a hug. I didn’t hear everything she said and I walked toward them but they walked their separate ways before I got there so I realized it was not my moment to share with them-it was theirs. I continued with my momentum of walking away from the area back to my car. These are the things I saw there and these are some of the things I thought about. The only “advice” I want to share is that when a tragedy happens, it is worth our time to send flowers and cards. Local florists will know where to deliver them. It sends a message of support and the more flowers piled up, the better. As I said, there were about 200 bunches of flowers there.

Such Joy!

I am overflowing with joy right now so I’ll let it fill up a blog post in hopes that it can bring you some joy as well.

My joy was tapped by a phone call, one that I missed, half an hour ago. It is from my friend. Yes, I am actually thrilled even though I missed his call. He has been suffering with health issues for the past few weeks and specifically over the past few days. I hadn’t heard from him in a few days so, with the help of the internet and the interestingly old-school habit of his pal keeping a land line, I was able to locate a mutual friend through the white pages online, someone I haven’t seen since the mid-90s. We had an enjoyable phone call and with the humor typical of our mutual, ill friend, he explained the situation to me. As we spoke, our friend was on the upswing and “head and shoulders” above where he had been the day before.

This friend had an incident on Saturday which was very very bad, but I am told he is now recovering. I was unaware of that. Our last conversation was on Friday night.

I look at my silly texts from the past few days: links to articles about the demise of couchsurfing, photos I sent of bloated lakes above Texas, increasingly concerned texts as mine were met by silence. Finally, last night, a text sent with tears in my eyes telling him I didn’t know when he would read it but that I wanted him to know that we were thinking about him. I wondered if it would be days or weeks before he go around to being in touch again. So, you can imagine my excitement when I see that he called me about half an hour ago. I don’t know what it will be like to talk to him. Over the past few days, I’ve had sentimental thoughts, funny thoughts and disbelieving thoughts at the health issues he is experiencing right now.

He’s the one who talked me into walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in 2002. He invited me in about 1999 and I blithely RSVP’d yes, hoping he’d forget about it by the time 2002 rolled around. Well, he did not forget about it and I found myself flying to Spain to meet him 13 years ago this week. Our plan was simply to “meet in front of the cathedral in Leon” on a certain date. He sat in a bench there every hour on the hour that day until I made it to the spot. My over confident Spanish caused me to accidentally buy myself a one way ticket to “Avila” when I was trying to say “A Leon” so that caused a beautiful, mystical delay traipsing around the land of St. Teresa for a few hours. Anyhow, we met on that bench and took off walking. He, already a veteran of a few weeks on the camino, told me some of the lore and uncharacteristically beheld a butterfly with much sentiment as it flew by. Myself, a newbie on the trail, chuckled at his sweet observations of the butterfly and found myself shedding the following within 1 mile of setting off:

-conditioner

-shampoo

-deodorant

-giant lonely planet guidebook to Spain

-Extra pens

-Extra coat

and some other stuff I don’t recall. When you start lugging your stuff around you quickly realize we can live without most of it.He had lots of stories to tell me already and described the hostels where we’d be crashing on floors and bunks among elderly French bicyclists who, it turns out, will strip and change clothes right in front of you with no warning. And so began our first few hours of our adventure together. It is the hardest physical feat I’ve accomplished in my life. We swore to one another that we would not permit the other to take up that endeavor again in the future. I’ve been invited and tempted a few times but I remember our shared vow, shared in the midst of new, camino-caused ailments and exhaustion. We laugh about it now. We chuckle at any quote calling life a pilgrimage or whatnot because we know that the pilgrimage is different when you arrive on an a/c bus in a town for a few hours vs. when you’ve walked it, schlepping your same two outfits and journal over hill and over dale, over the river and through the woods, through amber waves of grain (and hops) and arrive at your destination, weak-kneed, tired, sweating, sore, hurt, thinner, hungry, thirsty, unwashed, smelly, collapsing in a pile in a pew and crying for all the things you ever forgot to cry about in the past, for all the things you feel at that moment and for all the things you may have to cry for in the future, just in case this was your last chance to cry.

So, I’ll continue to inundate his phone with texts and in the meantime I ask you to storm heaven with prayers for his speedy recovery.

Update: He is out of the hospital and back home. Please continue prayers for his recovery.